Baker on Iran: ‘Don’t Lose a Damn Thing by Talking’

James Baker, former secretary of state for one president and secretary of the treasury and chief of staff for another, says European leaders shouldn’t be surprised by allegations of American espionage.

Recalling his time as the chief U.S. diplomat for President George H.W. Bush, Baker says: “We couldn’t find a hotel in Paris that wasn’t bugged.”

Baker, senior partner at Baker Botts LLP, was holding court Tuesday night at the  Kennedy Center  in Washington, where he received the Making Cancer History Award from the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, where the onetime chief counselor to Bush and President Ronald Reagan before him was treated for prostate cancer.

Baker, who also co-chaired the Iraq Study Group with former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a bipartisan team that attempted to chart a course forward with the war in Iraq for President George W. Bush, said this last night to a question about ongoing negotiations with Iran over the possible dismantling of its nuclear development program:

“You don’t lose a damn thing by talking to people.”

“I’m not in favor of any more wars in the Middle East,” said Baker, 83. “We’ve had enough of those for a while.”

Over short ribs and Texas pecan pie, Baker had the company of fellow Texan Randall Stephenson, chairman and president of AT&T., former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group.  Baker has served as a senior counsel to the Carlyle Group.

Also on hand, retiring Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and the very much active Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as well as Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Last night, Bertrand Badre, managing director and chief financial officer of the World Bank, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, were dining over foie gras and Maine lobster at the French-American Cultural Foundation’s 15th anniversary gala.

Badre,  the most senior Frenchman to serve at the bank, describing the French and Americans as an old couple, said: “We’ve had our highs and lows, but we’ve never been at war.”  Maloney, who studied French in high school and college, said that because so many of her constituents have been Latinos, “whenever I try to speak French, Spanish comes out.”

Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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